Watchdog faults bureaucrats for HK$1m toilet no one uses

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 06 March, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 06 March, 2010, 12:00am

The Ombudsman has found a government department partly responsible for delays in resolving a row over a HK$960,000 public toilet that has been unused since it was built.

But it has exonerated another from blame over the ruckus surrounding the 105 sq ft structure on Ma Wan island, which has now been permanently closed.

The toilet was built in 2003 to serve two relocated villages that were displaced by construction of the Tsing Ma Bridge - the airport link that joined the once-isolated island to Tsing Yi - and the nearby Park Island private residential estate.

But villagers complained that it was too near their homes and would create smell and hygiene risks so it never opened.

In the row that followed, the watchdog said, the Tsuen Wan office of the Home Affairs Department had been remiss in doing nothing for two years after starting efforts to negotiate with the concerned parties in 2007.

And it had not addressed the issue again until a resident complained at the start of last year. The ombudsman said this was at odds with usual procedure.

The Ombudsman expressed concern at the department's lack of written records of talks it said it had with various parties, and the lack of any written consultation papers. Also, despite residents expressing concerns about the project, the department had not submitted the topic for discussion during Tsuen Wan District Council meetings.

But it said the department was only partly at fault because the development project was complex and it might not have been able to consult the public on every item of the project.

The Ombudsman exonerated the Lands Department, which was also a subject of the complaint, saying its role was only to transfer the land from the developer to the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department which would have operated the facility. Even if it had done so, the toilet would still have been closed because of strong opposition.

Under the Ma Wan development agreement, affected villages were moved, and developer Sun Hung Kai Properties built new village houses and public facilities, including the toilet.

The Home Affairs Department said it and relevant parties came to a decision last December to keep the toilet closed but had yet to decide what would become of it.

Suggestions have included letting it for commercial use or transforming it into a tourist information centre.

Park Island resident Karven Wong Ka-chun said the facility should be opened and available for use by people playing basketball or walking their dogs nearby.

'The toilet is not a privilege for the Ma Wan villages only,' Wong said. 'I'm most concerned about not being able to use the facility.'